In Defense of Toys: 4 Reasons Toys Are Good for the Imagination

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This is the third part of a three part series.  I strongly suggest that you read them in order:  Part 1, Does the Toy Industry Privatize Play? And part 2, 21st Century Childhood and the Loss of Nature.   

In my last two postings, I have been writing about the new book:  A Country Called Childhood.  It is, in parts an accurate and in parts an overwrought look at what parents, society as well as the toy, entertainment and play industries have done to cut children off from nature and to subsequently stifle their imaginations.  Are we, as she accuses us, “privatizers of the commons of dream?” 

Griffiths notes in the book that “…children’s toys were all but unknown before 1600, because children had access to a magic toyshop…in themselves and in nature.” I have to disagree with that thought because a trip to pretty much any history museum contains toy artifacts from Greece, Rome and Egypt to name just a few.  

Toys are, however, a product of the 19th century industrial revolution along with most of the rest of what we consume today.  Prior to that time, toys were either homemade or created by craftspeople.  They were tools of play and as such provided a means of exploring what Griffiths calls “the commons of dream.”  And when you think about it, the industrial engine opened up new dimensions of nature and thereby new ways to stimulate thought. Water turned into steam and later electricity could make toys move.  Talk about the magic of play.

Here is what I think.  More importantly, I want to know what you think.   Why, because if we do not take part in the discussion; it will be about us and not with us.    And the discussion is here and it is going to getting bigger and harsher.  

  1. Toys are the tools of play; not its enemy.  I think that toys and games; whether virtual or physical, indoors or outdoors; are instigators of imagination.  If we did not have tools we would probably still be living in homes made of sod or sticks.  You cannot form a brick or hammer a nail without tools.  In the same sense, toys are essential in building the imagination.  Yes, children will play whether we give them toys or not, but I see no ill in giving them the tools to create a richer internal and external world.
  2. Providing entertainment to children actually builds their ability to entertain themselves and others.  How many great authors were inspired to create by Charles Dickens and JK Rowling?  How many movie makers had their imaginations stimulated by Orson Welles or George Lucas.
  3. Toys and games do not stifle the imagination; they enrich and stimulate it. 
  4. And finally, I truly believe that toys, games, books and movies democratize access to the imagination.  I would state that all people are created equal but not all have  the ability to extend their imaginations without the help of someone who is more gifted in creating story. “The commons of dreams” is no longer limited to those richly endowed but a place for everyone.

I thank Jay Griffiths for creating an important book that has stimulated my imagination.  My personal “commons of dreams” has been enriched because she privatized her thoughts.

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